CBE's Math 'Strategy'

I know that most people want the 'short version' of a candidate's positions. At the same time, I do believe that a few people want a complete picture. Below is a detailed explanation of my thinking about the CBE's Math Strategy. 

If you want the short version of my point of view on Math, please see the single paragraph on the home page. Or, for a bit more detail - see the Math page. If you want to know my perspective on teaching for immediate recall of math facts, see my blog post (below) from Sept. 9th. 

For those hardy individuals who want to know about the recently proposed Math Strategy ... knock your socks off, read my musings here!

Spoiler alert ....

....   this post contains pointed criticism of how well CBE Administration listens to the public!

Parents have been raising concerns about math achievement for some time. At first, CBE's administration (Admin) appeared to be paying attention to the concerns raised by the public and Trustees. They started out to develop a Math Strategy to be responsive to the need. As part of their work to develop it, Admin undertook a public consultation process. 

On June 30, 2017 a Math Strategy Overview was posted on CBE’s public website. You can access it here.  

The overview demonstrates that the new Board of Trustees (to be elected October 16th - don't forget to vote!), must provide more direction to David Stevenson, the Chief Superintendent with respect to what the public expects in a Math Strategy for our schools. David can readily set his people on a path which better reflects what he and the Trustees are asking for. 

First, the overview states that “Overall CBE students do well in Mathematics based on report card data and provincial achievement results.” Then, after reporting high levels of success on report cards (without defining what constitutes ‘success’), the overview says that:

In 2015-16 the percentage of CBE students meeting the Acceptable Standard for each of the Mathematics provincial tests or exams was: 
• Mathematics 6: 75.0% 
• Mathematics 9: 67.9% 
• Mathematics 9 K&E: 53.6% 
• Mathematics 30-1: 76.0% 
• Mathematics 30-2: 78.2%

This is NOT success.

Now lets look at just one piece of data from the engagement. 

 Question 2 of an online survey (great majority of respondents were parents/guardians) asked “What support does your child need to be successful in mathematics?” 

Here are the top ten (of 21) responses per the CBE summary:
1. Practice and repetition
2. Quality of Instruction
3. Basics and Foundations
4. Numeracy and the Real World
5. Student Learning and Support
6. Interactive and Engaging Teaching Methods
7. Problem Solving and Reasoning
8.  Curriculum
9.  Resources
10. Memorization

Note that the number one response (whether sorted by the number of people -129- or the number of ‘stars’ -endorsing the response -602) was “practice and repetition”. The seventh response was problem solving and reasoning (21 people, 89 stars – or roughly 15% the rate of the number one response). 

As well, memorization was listed separately from practice and repetition (at #10). Thus, together, it was clear that most parents wanted a focus on more practice, repetition and memorization. 

With these considerations in mind, CBE's response (Math Strategy Overview) states that:

CBE’s Mathematics Strategy focuses on the following:    

Ensuring mathematics learning programs are active and                                                 rigorous:
1. Build strong mathematical foundations so students can understand complex mathematical ideas
2. Ensure students participate in learning activities that develop their mathematical reasoning and communication skills
3. Create more opportunities for students to be active problem solvers 

Enhancing positive mathematics cultures in each school
1. Know that every student can be successful and confident at learning mathematics
2. Teachers and parents help build mathematical thinking by connecting math to other subjects and everyday life. 

Building clarity and coherence in mathematics instruction and assessment practices
1. Build opportunities for students to practice math skills over time
2, Focus on the connections between conceptual understanding, problem solving and mental math  
3. Use mathematical discussion with/among students to build and solidify concepts
4. Communicate clearly with families about student learning in math  
5. Strengthen the use of specific feedback and guidance to students during learning 

Providing professional learning to enhance teacher confidence and skill  
1. Build teacher confidence and skill with mathematics content and teaching through: 
a. Whole-school learning  
b. Teacher collaboration within schools
c. Individual teacher learning

Now these things may not be contradictory to what parents asked for, but in my opinion, they do not clearly get at what parents were asking for. It appears to me that Admin does not wish to have a focus on practice, repetition, or memorization as part of the strategy, even though that's what parents believe their children need. 

It would be fine for the CBE Admin to state that "despite parent input, the strategy will take a different direction". They certainly have the right to argue against what parents want; but the debate needs to be a public and open one. 

Trustees can discuss this issue (the role that parent input should or should not play in guiding the system strategy). What is not okay with me is that the strategy is silent on the main concern raised by parents. It has been in the news. Parents see it as causing declining results. Their desire for more ‘traditional’ math was (or certainly should have been) a driver of the development of a strategy in the first place. Why does the Math Strategy Overview not make a clear statement about the role of memorization of math facts?

Silence makes the public feel that there is a lack of openness, honesty and transparency, in the system. Asking for public input and then ignoring it is, in my opinion, one of the main reasons that CBE suffers a poor public reputation at times. 

When I am a Trustee, I will be asking the questions about math, and the math strategy, which parents want answered. 

1. Will teachers devote teaching time and energy to the memorization of math facts (outcomes in the Program of Studies)?

2. If the Strategy leaves goals and action plans up to individual schools, principals, and teachers, how is it a system strategy?

3. How does the strategy reflect scientific research? I can see evidence of one research branch (qualitative research, instructional practice linked to learning theory/social construction of knowledge) but not the research which provides objective, empirical, scientific evidence of what works. 

4. How will “success” of the strategy be defined and measured? The literacy strategy has made it clear that success will continue to be measured just as it always has been (nothing new has been proposed to monitor or evaluate student literacy, or system change). 

5. Will the math strategy also just do "more of the what we've been doing" to monitor and evaluate math success? Or will we drill down and determine which students in the system are not yet successful in math, and why? Will we target specific actions to those students? Alternatively, will it look at which teachers want and need support, and target specific actions to those teachers?

6. How will resources be linked to specific actions? How will the impact of those resources on measurable results be determined? In other words, what will the system spend money on to improve math results and how will we know if the money was well spent? Administration needs to find a way to devote energy and time (resources) to specific actions which will improve results for specific students. 

As is true for each of the system “strategies” included in the 3 Year Education plan, when elected as a Trustee, I will ensure that administration is asked for (and produces) clear Math action plans and uses strong change management strategies, with measurable objective goals and planned evaluations.

 How Strategic is CBE's Math Strategy?

How Strategic is CBE's Math Strategy?

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